Why Is Chinese Governance Better?

Recently, Martin Jacques observed that Chinese governance under the CPC is a better, more efficient and higher form of governance than we have seen thus far. To begin with, Jacques is correct. This is particularly obvious if we compare it with bourgeois (liberal) democracy, which is now obsolete and quite clumsy. The latter arose in a specific context, in eighteenth and nineteenth century Western Europe, and may have been appropriate in that part of the world in the wake of the bourgeois revolutions. It has also been transplanted to some former colonies in North America, Australia and New Zealand. But the system is rather crude, with nearly every feature of public life politicised, with antagonistic political engagement in which one policy is promulgated by a particular political party only to be undone by the next. Chaotic, clumsy and outdated.

As is usually the case with Martin Jacques, he tries to explain this reality by going back into China’s more distant past. Strangely, he skips past the central role of Marxism in shaping the current practice of governance in China. So let us see what such a focus indicates (this article is also useful).

Here I draw on a book I am writing on Engels, for it is precisely Engels (more than Marx) who provides the philosophical basis for socialist governance. The book has taken longer than expected, since I need to work carefully through material few consider. In the final chapter, I examine Engels’s ideas concerning what a socialist form of governance might be.

There are two main points.

First, the organs of governance ‘stand in the midst of society’. Engels draws this insight from his careful study in the 1870s and 1880s of what he calls ‘pre-state’ societies, but which may also be called ‘base communism’ and ‘base democracy’. Why ‘pre-state’? For Engels, the state is a ‘separated public power’, which arises from class conflict and stands over against society. By contrast, base communism does not have this separation. All the various organs of governance – and there are many – stand in the midst of society. They are woven within social structures, being part and parcel of society as a whole. In my book, I have developed the category of ‘enmeshment’ to understand how this might work: society, state and economy are not separated from one another, but rather enmeshed within one another.

One might respond: but Engels is dealing with ancient societies, in a historical and anthropological way, so these insights are not relevant for how socialism today functions. The answer: in a crucial but under-studied piece called ‘The Mark’, Engels points out that this type of base communism would be dialectically transformed under socialism, so as to become the type of society and governance that would be appropriate.

This point I have realised for some time, but the second is relatively new: ‘public functions will lose their political character and be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society’. This text is quoted from Engels’s 1873 piece, ‘On Authority’, in which he castigates the impractical proposals of the Anarchists, especially under Bakunin’s leadership. But the core idea of political character disappearing and being replaced by an efficient administration focused on the public good is crucial (it appears elsewhere in Engels’s work and is voiced by Marx).

Let us begin with political character. Under bourgeois democracies, a whole spate of areas are political footballs: education, health, environment, public transport, immigration and refugees, economic policy, and so on. They are the subject of election campaigns, of bewildering changes in policy with changes in the party in power, of implementation and winding back. But if they lose their political character, they cease to be tossed back and forth depending on the whims of political parties.

In place of this political character is efficient administration focused on the public good. Let me give three examples drawn from China. In education, the long-term plan is to improve the already impressive educational system in all respects. This entails careful research, significant funding, trials of new methods in some areas before extending them to the rest of the country, and so on. For this reason, people with whom I speak in China find it unbelievable that the Australian government – as one example – has been reducing funding for education for quite some time now.

Another example concerns public transport, which is reasonably well-known internationally. Simply put, the Chinese rail system is now the best in the world. Three levels of high-speed train operate across the country, while the slower ‘green skin’ trains ply local routes. In cities across China, world-leading metro systems are being implemented at a breath-taking pace. One that I know well is in Beijing, where they are working towards increasing the total kilometres covered from about 500 km to 1,000 km. Currently, it caters for 6 billion passenger trips per year, but this will increase. Again, this is seen as a public good, requiring long-term planning and efficient implementation.

Finally, environmental policy and action, which is called in China ‘ecological civilisation [shengtai wenming]’. The term refers to the modes of life and their relation to the environment: only when this is sorted out can we speak of wenming, which is not so much ‘citification’ (as the Latin origins of ‘civilisation’ suggest) but the just, peaceful, healthy and stable nature of culture. In China, the realities of climate change are not politicised; instead, they needs to be addressed directly. I have seen this with my own eyes, in what may be called the greening of China. The country leads the world in reafforestation, the water, plants and air of major cities have been improving year on year, and green technologies are leaping ahead. Again, this is efficient administration for the public good.

So yes, Chinese governance is clearly the highest form we have seen thus far, precisely because of the CPC and the socialist road. We should of course be careful: Engels’s formulations are not the final word on the matter. He had never experienced the actual process of constructing socialism, let alone a successful communist revolution. But it is rather striking how he and Marx provide the philosophical basis of socialist governance in terms of the disappearance of its political character and the development of efficient and careful administration for the public good. That the Chinese have developed these much further, in light of their conditions and the actual experience of constructing socialist governance, should be clear.

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Marxism is China’s Basic Guiding Ideology

This point should be ovbious by now: Marxism has been and remains the basic approach in China for 7 decades. But it is worth reminding ourselves, in this piece by Song Wei on the China Daily:

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China. In the seven decades since then, China has made remarkable achievements and moved closer to realizing the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation. To stay true to its mission of realizing the Chinese Dream, the Communist Party of China needs to apply Marxism according to China’s actual conditions.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core has been promoting the cause of the Party and nation by applying Marxism to China’s real conditions. In this regard, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is a great contribution to Marxism.

Marxism is a practical, scientific, ever-developing and open theory, which not only highlights the social laws of development but also prompts people to make efforts to build a better world. Since its establishment, the CPC has led the Chinese people to many victories, by applying Marxism to solve real problems and promote the localization of Marxism.

Led by the Party, the Chinese people emerged out of thousands of years of feudalism to build people’s democracy through the New Democratic Revolution; China changed its destiny by moving toward prosperity during the socialist revolution and construction period; and the nation stood up by becoming prosperous and strong during the reform and opening-up as well as socialist modernization period.

The reason the CPC could achieve these unprecedented and arduous tasks is that it followed the scientific theory of Marxism, and continuously enriched and developed Marxism both in theory and practice.

Since the 18th Party Congress, the Party has solved many long-term, outstanding problems under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee, and China has made many achievements in the economic, political, cultural, social and ecological fields under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, which is the latest addition to Marxist philosophy in China.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era makes clear what kind of socialism we should adhere to and develop in the new era, and how we can adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics.

It also advances a series of major creative and people-oriented arguments, which manifest the power of Marxism and the value of scientific socialism.

Xi’s thought writes a new chapter in Marxism, and serves as a guide to better apply the basic principles of Marxism to China’s actual conditions. In other words, it is a milestone in the process of Marxism’s localization in China.

President Xi Jinping has stressed that Marxism is the basic guiding ideology of our nation and Party. So we should always and under any circumstances adhere to Marxism.

The fundamental reason Marxism has been our guiding philosophy for the past seven decades is that the Party has organically combined the adherence to Marxism with the development of Marxism, and continuously promoted the localization of Marxism in China.

So in the new era, we should review Marxism’s development in China on a broader scale, continuously develop Marxism and further promote the localization of Marxism in China.

Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

In what is clearly his most important speech yet, Xi Jinping spoke for three hours at the opening of the CPC’s 19th congress yesterday morning (18 October).

You can view the full video of the opening and Xi’s speech here (with English translation). Rather stunning in its relative simplicity, especially if you keep in mind that this is not only the congress of the largest political party in the world, but the most powerful communist party in human history.

In the next post, I will provide an infographics of the key points of Xi’s speech, but it is worth noting here that it has officially been designated as a significant new phase of Marxist thought in a Chinese context: Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

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And in a speech in which Marxism is clearly the framework, it is worth noting the continuing importance of Mao’s ‘contradiction analysis’. The key is to identify through careful analysis the primary or most important contradiction that needs to be addressed.

For Xi: ‘What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life [mei hua sheng huo]’. By this is meant democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice, security, a better environment, and spiritual and cultural concerns.